27 September 2023

Boss business: What makes a good boss good, or a bad boss bad?

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Brian de Haaff says research shows that people in leadership positions are slightly more likely than the general population to have psychopathic tendencies — but it’s not all bad news.

Have you ever worked for a truly terrible boss?

The type who can be ruthless and cruel — who will manipulate and lie to anyone just to get ahead.

You might even call this boss a psycho.

Some leaders think that being harsh is the only way to get ahead.

Empathy is seen as a sign of weakness and the goal is to assert dominance over the team. In short, act like a psycho.

Unfortunately, past research has suggested that organisational leaders are slightly more likely than the general population to have psychopathic tendencies.

Sort of frightening, right? Well, a more recent study shows this correlation may be overstated.

However, if you have worked for a tyrannical manager, you know there is a tendency to excuse bad behaviour if the overall output is strong.

Just think about the leaders we now laud as visionaries, who also come with stories of boorishness and cruelty towards employees.

You do not need to be a psycho or create an environment of fear to build successful products and organisations.

In fact, just the opposite is true — you can be a visionary leader and be kind and respectful.

Kindness and respect lead to a happier environment and a greater sense of fulfilment for everyone.

You might also find more quantifiable results.

According to a recent Gallup study, managers have a huge impact on productivity — at least 70 per cent of variance on employee engagement scores.

So if psychopathic tendencies are out, then what is in?

How can you do brilliant work while also being kind?

Below are the old ways of doing business — along with the traits that visionary leaders should embrace today

Old: Tyrannical. New: Purposeful.

You do not want to be the aimless leader — sulking away in your office, focused on accumulating power.

What most people need from a boss is someone who will infuse work with purpose.

To start, clarify the organisation’s vision and goals, and then share those with the team.

By making sure that everyone understands why they are doing the work they are doing, you are providing a sense of agency and purpose.

Old: Secretive. New: Transparent.

There are the closed-door meetings that hide whispered conversations and secret plans.

On the other side of that door are people who feel disrespected and insecure.

So, step outside and explain to the team what is happening — especially as policies shift or new decisions are made.

Revealing the ‘why’ behind each move will make everyone feel invested and focused on the important work.

Old: Critical. New: Direct.

Yes, part of your job is to identify problems and deliver feedback, but you should not use cruel words or get personal.

Instead, focus on delivering the most important information with kindness — explaining what is not working and what specifically needs to change.

When things are going really great, be sure to give feedback on that too.

Old: Grandiose. New: Humble.

Does the fact that you are the one giving feedback make you better and smarter than others? No.

Giving off that air of superiority will only alienate people, or even worse make them feel like they cannot speak up and explain their own thoughts and ideas.

So, as you give feedback, you should also be open to hearing what others have to say about your work too.

Old: Selfish. New: Giving.

Chanting “me, me, me” is no way to lead.

It blinds you to what is really happening and what people need, creating an unproductive and toxic environment.

Prevent this by coming from a place of generosity instead — freely giving your time, energy, and ideas.

This might mean taking extra time to guide a teammate or looking for opportunities to encourage another into their own leadership position.

By embracing all of the above traits, you will lead by example — showing the team just how far you can get with kindness and respect.

In the end, people will remember you not only for what you did but also for how you made them feel.

So forget the nasty words, forego the screaming matches, and forsake the manipulation.

You and I deserve better than another psycho at the office.

*Brian de Haaff is the Chief Executive of cloud-based software company Aha! He can be contacted on Twitter@bdehaaff.

This article first appeared on the Aha! company website.

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